Creative process meets information she can’t ignore

Oh, dear readers! How I have neglected you and this lonely dusty blog!

I would apologize, but . . . do I really need to? Whether or not I’m typing here doesn’t improve your digestion or bring a luminous quality to your skin. My favorite memory from Writer School applies: I learned that the world doesn’t need my book. There are plenty of books and book writers out there – the only way my book will make any difference to anyone is if I need to write it. And, then, maybe it will still only matter to me. There are even more blog writers than book writers, and personal blogs matter to their authors much much more than they mean to anyone else. It’s a big internet out there.

So now that’s established, here’s what’s up. I’ve been busy. Full-time high school teaching, late after school sessions with Yearbook twice a week, and a “let’s grab dinner tonight” social calendar filled with awesome people without whose face time and stimulating conversations I’d be completely bereft. Busy with attempts at some sort of regular spiritual practice time and feeling like a Little Dutch Boy trying to plug the leak of November darkness and dancing with SAD, often going to bed earlier than my best friend’s toddler. I’ve kept my head above water, because the alternative isn’t an option.

What all of this means: I haven’t been writing. I haven’t written anything significant to me since my show in August of 2010. I’ve been feeling terrible about that, have written a couple of little articles and short essays that haven’t been satisfying, and generally feeling like a not-writer. Imagine a 1960s era hospital waiting room with white walls, fake plants, overflowing ashtrays, and ugly orange furniture. Creatively, that’s where I’m languishing: the “I’m so busy, I can’t ever finish anything” artist doomface creative timesuck waiting room. The worst part about this room is that the cookies in the vending machine don’t taste very good and I can’t stop eating them anyway. Cookies do not offer creative satisfaction. They offer only a temporary comfort and expanding waistline. Stupid cookies taking away my skinny jean wearing abilities!

Anyway. I signed up for NaNoWriMo and was GUNGHO for two days. Then, I caught a bad cold, started feeling really sorry for myself, felt like a jerk for being behind schedule, then started to let depression* eat my face off for the past two weeks. All those anti-artist vampires started swooshing around me and I let them win. They said things like:

You can’t write. You’ve had your MFA for four years now and haven’t accomplished anything. You aren’t growing as a writer, you’re moving backwards. Plus: You’re not funny. You’re a hack. Nothing you write will ever make a difference in the world. Why would you even bother to write a novel? Who is going to read it? God, you’re such a waste of space. (blah blah blah ad nauseum.)

But the truth of what really happened is this: I got spooked. 3,470 words into a new story, I felt my heart open up and really start to fall in love with a new character – one whose story is finally not mine – and as soon as I closed my computer that morning, I was terrified that my heart was about to be broken. My last extended project, a memoir about living with an alcoholic, broke my heart. Why would this project be any different? Plus, I’m busy! Doesn’t that artist in me know there’s a LIFE to survive out here? Sweet spinning Jesus on a turn style, what do you want from me??

Then, today I read this article: If you’re busy, you’re doing something wrong. It presents research about the difference between elite/high-achieving musicians and average ones – and how the difference between the most “talented” and the “average” performers was not how much they practiced or whether or not they were “gifted” but how they structured their practice time AND the rest of their lives. Here’s a brief summary from the post:

  • The average players are working just as many hours as the elite players (around 50 hours a week spent on music),
  • but they’re not dedicating these hours to the right type of work (spending almost 3 times less hours than the elites on crucial deliberate practice),
  • and furthermore, they spread this work haphazardly throughout the day. So even though they’re not doing more work than the elite players, they end up sleeping less and feeling more stressed. Not to mention that they remain worse at the violin.

Therein lies the reason I feel so stunted and underperforming as an artist: I’m not writing every day. I don’t have a rigid schedule within which I do the crucial and deliberate practice of putting words on the page. Therefore I am not improving.  No wonder I feel like crap about my (not)work. Then, THIS:

Also consider relaxation. The researchers asked the players to estimate how much time they dedicated each week to leisure activities — an important indicator of their subjective feeling of relaxation. By this metric, the elite players were significantly more relaxed than the average players, and the best of the best were the most relaxed of all.

Essentially, I know there’s nothing wrong with the busy life I’m living. I know that teaching eats up a lot of my time. But I could create some rigid, non-negotiable practice time to improve my skills at my creative practice. I could remove an activity or three from each week. I could practice letting my heart fall into something new and not breaking. It’d probably feel pretty good. So, you know. Let’s see what happens with that.

*For the advice-loving and suggestion giving among you, you should know that I’m doing EVERYTHING that I need to do to take care of my mental and physical health. I’m in no danger, I just like to complain sometimes.

PLUS: I’m up for LOVELINKS this month. You should totally vote for me.

7 thoughts on “Creative process meets information she can’t ignore”

  1. We have lots in common – I signed up for nablopromo and didn’t even last a single day. I don’t do well with online novel writing. (-: Also my first novel was on the topic of living w. an alcoholic, and I too have an MFA! (-:
    Liked the tips on “if you’re busy you’re not working smart” – I totally agree but I’m so busy must dash!

  2. I absolutely love your beginning (it’s only worth writing if I need to write it) and the whole idea of how I’m spending my busy time. Am I busy on the right things? I think I’m not, so I’m trying to sort that out. Thanks for making me think!

  3. I wanted to play the violin in high school but my parents said they couldn’t find one and besides they couldn’t afford one if they did. So I bought a trumpet with my own money earned from my paper route, (i practiced peddling papers everyday and got prett good at it.) I didn’t practice very much so I never got good or even mediocre at trumpet playing. My mother sold my trumpet to our parish priest and she kept the money. I’d forgotten that til just now. I don’t think that was fair.
    Did NaNoWriMo once; wrote 28,543 words in 30days. Haven’t been back to it since.
    I’m taking a creative non-fiction writing course now…..

    Anyhow, good to see ya.
    rel

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